Teens and teeth whitening

Selfie generation... the rise of social media is fuelling the desire for perfect white smiles.

By Melissa Grant

Perfect white smiles greet us every time we open a magazine, turn on the TV or log onto social media.

The selfie phenomenon is also driving people to look as beautiful as they can be – and that includes having a set of pearly whites.

So it’s hardly surprising that more and more teenagers are demanding teeth whitening.

But do they really need it? And is it safe?

Peter Alldritt, a distinguished member of the Australian Dental Association (ADA), says there are a range of things to consider before a teen whitens their teeth.

It’s important for a young person to understand that teeth whitening probably won’t deliver dramatic results.

“They haven’t been exposed to lots of tea and coffee and certainly not to cigarettes and red wine (I hope), so the results of teeth whitening might not be very spectacular in many teenagers.”

Unfortunately however, through no fault of their own, some teenagers do have yellow teeth and are teasted by other kids.

“I would try to help these teenagers as much as possible by whitening their teeth safely,” Dr Alldritt said.

Dr Alldritt says there isn’t a particular age at which it’s safe for teens to whiten their teeth. But he does recommend waiting until adult teeth are in place and have erupted completely, and for any orthodontic treatments to be completed.

There is also a risk that the pulp chamber (nerve space) will be much bigger,  making it easier for the whitening agent to penetrate.

*Side effects

Teens need to consider the following side effects: tooth sensitivity, gum irritation and multi-coloured teeth.

Dr Alldritt says teeth can become sensitive to cold drinks and even breathing in cold air, while gums can be irritated or ulcerated from the bleaching agent.

Multi-coloured teeth can be a huge problem when using DIY kits.

“They only way to rectify this is to replace fillings, crowns or other dental restorations,” he said.

*Avoid DIY Whitening

Teens may think that DIY kits are a good option, especially with so many celebrities endorsing them on Instagram.

But Dr Alldritt says they are extremely risky.

First of all, the concentration of whitening agent (hydrogen peroxide) may be unknown.

“It may be too weak to be effective – a waste of time and money,” Dr Alldritt said.

“Or, it may be too strong, causing much greater risk of side effects – sensitivity, gum ulceration or burning of the gums.”

Some also use alternative whitening products, usually combined with citric acid, which can erode tooth enamel.

Dr Alldritt says there’s a real risk the product will ooze onto the gums due to the absence of a custom made try to hold the bleaching agent in place.

“There is also a greater risk of swallowing the bleaching gel which may cause ulceration to the oesophagus and irritation to the stomach,” he said.

A final word of advice – consult your dentist first.

“They can discuss the options, advise whether your teenager is a suitable candidate for teeth whitening, and also supervise the process so that you get the best possible results,” Dr Alldritt said.